In defense of Twittering during a personal crisis

Matt Haughey, who recently live-tweeted a personal emergency of his own, writes in defense of a mother who tweeted the drowning death of her son, as it was happening.


  1. Actually, I was annoyed at the initial coverage of this. While I have an Identica account (and Twitter, but I never use it), I’m hardly an avid denter/tweeter. I barely blog anything, really. I’m internet antisocial.

    Even so, I felt that the initial coverage of the tweeting mother was really cruel. She went to the community she felt closest too, and that community happened to be on Twitter. It makes perfect sense to me.

  2. I’m surprised at how her defenders are seizing upon the issue of gender. That idea never even entered *my* mind.

    I guess I’m another dinosaur here, perhaps, but I wouldn’t Twitter a personal tragedy, particularly one still happening, because I wouldn’t want to share it with so many people so soon.

    Re: convenience of phone calls v. Twitter, I also can never see myself making dozens of phone calls to inform people of a tragedy. I’d tell my closest family, perhaps a few friends, and ask them to kindly pass the word to those who might need to know.

    If paramedics were trying to resuscitate my two-year-old son, or I had just been told my toddler boy had died, the only reason I’d call anyone — probably my mother or my boyfriend — is because I want them there to comfort and support me, not because I want “an excellent way to disseminate information” as one person put it.

  3. Such a sensational headline for a non-story. If she was tweeting in between breaths during CPR that would be a story. That was not the case. News organizations don’t know how to report news (specifically non-news for the most part) any longer. In order to get any attention at all they need to squeal in high pitched voices.

    Just like Matt wrote on his blog about his brain tumor, it was the quickest and easiest way to disseminate information without having to make a million phone calls.

    Tragedy and death will affect us all at some point in our lives. Each of us deals with it differently because each situation is unique to that individual. If I owned a cell phone (which I hope to never own one again) and I was an avid twitterer I’m sure I would have done the same thing – at least for the very fact that it takes your mind off of the horror for those few seconds of tapping the buttons.


    People really need to pay more attention to their own lives instead of sticking their noses up everyone else’s ass.

    I hate our current ‘Need-to-know-everything-instantly-so-we-can-condemn-everyone-else-instantly-so-I-don’t-have-to-look-to-my-own-life’ culture.

    Keep your nose out of my business and I’ll keep mine out of yours.

    1. News organizations don’t know how to report news (specifically non-news for the most part) any longer. In order to get any attention at all they need to squeal in high pitched voices.

      That is so true. It’s just about instant, lazy sensationalism. Just post a few morcels of info and leave it to people to imagine the worst, most bizarre theories… then update 3 or for more times as the information comes in. Can’t they just wait until they have a full story with complete facts?? I know they are competing for being first to report, but disseminating half-baked BS shouldn’t qualify.

      The story was probably painted as if the woman tweeted “OMG GUYZ! My son is drowning, liek, right nao!!” while the kid was floating face down in the pool. Of course people would be all over that, but it was NOT the case!

  4. I don’t see anything wrong with what she did. I had a similar situation about six months ago when my wife passed away. After the police arrived and did their thing, and we were waiting on the medical examiner, I sent a couple of tweets after making phone calls to immediate family.

  5. I have a couple of small kids and I can’t begin to imagine being sane for weeks after this. More than that, if you have ever been around someone who just lost a loved one you will find them doing all sorts of unnecessary things. The morning my grandfather died, I recall my grandmother worrying about the cleanliness of her broiler tray, a device I don’t think she had ever used in her life.

  6. Sheesh. She didn’t tweet instead of rescuing her son, she did it to let people know what was happening after she’d done all she could to save him. This should be a complete non-issue, no more sensational than if she’d called people on the phone to let them know what was happening.

    I imagine the only people upset by this are the same people who get upset when someone talks in a normal voice on their cell phone at the grocery store- people who wouldn’t give it a second thought if they were talking to an actual person walking next to them.

  7. I wonder how much of the uproar is due to the words involved: “Twitter” and “tweet”. They help make Twitter sound so trivial, so inconsequential. “Tweeting” sounds too frivolous to be something you do in a time of emergency or mourning.

    Most of it, of course, is just the usual impulse many people have to blame recipients of tragedy. “Ah, it’s because you were [doing whatever they were doing when the bad thing happened]. I’d never be so irresponsible as to do that, so it would never happen to me!”

  8. In a more normal human culture, she’d be surrounded by other people. In our culture, unless you run to the neighbors whom you barely know, this is how you contact other humans: phone, e-mail, tweets.

  9. Not that it is on the same level, but when our dog died when we were on vacation, after a few minutes of my husband and I privately talking and sending a couple of emails/phone calls, my natural response was to post something on both Twitter and Facebook. To me, it seemed like an important life event worthy of a status update. My husband did the same thing so I do not see what it has to do with gender. I don’t understand, some people complain bitterly about the trivial nature of people’s tweets and status updates…and then someone tweets or posts about something important and gets criticized for that? How about, if you don’t like something someone writes and you think it’s so awful, quit reading their stuff and get on with your life?

  10. This kind of story always makes me nervous about the way in which any ordinary person can suddenly become the object of a national/international hate mob.

  11. The problem with twittering about personal tragedies is the implicit abrogation of face to face (or at least voice to voice) personal relationships.

    I know it is mightily convenient to tweet a comment (140 characters: is that how much you care about a personal tragedy? The casualness of the medium has implicit meanings: too busy to bother, too lazy to call you), but what will cement those friendships and familial ties is embracing each other, or at the very least calling each other, looking each other eye to eye, hearing each other’s concern and pain.

    One of the things that makes us humans is our social interactions, Twitter becomes the antithesis of that: impersonal, hurried and constrained. No wonder some people find it a creepy medium to communicate these news. It is natural to expect hurried short messages about nonsense like what you are eating, or what you are doing, but using the same medium to inform about major changes in your life strikes as complete carelessness.

    It is very telling how many people have commented how “this is the way it is”, like if mobile phones, Facebook and Twitter were the natural order of things. Some people that gained adult conciousness in a time when the Internet was a given have forgotten that these otherwise wonderful tools are just that: tools.

    Unless you use pliers to hammer nails on your walls I think you should acknowledge that Twitter should not be the medium to post all the news about your life.

    1. Yeah. Definitely. Posting about a family death on twitter is almost as bad as taking out an obituary in like a newspaper and who would ever do that!?!? I mean it’s personal. You know?

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